Man arrested in Paraguay football star's shooting

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A suspected drug cartel member has been arrested as an alleged accomplice in the shooting of star Paraguayan striker Salvador Cabanas, Mexican federal police announced Wednesday.

But drugs apparently had nothing to do with the Jan. 25 attack on Cabanas, who survived the gunshot wound to the head and is recovering — though he missed this year's World Cup.

The suspected accomplice, Francisco Barreto, told police that the shooting at a Mexico City bar was over an argument about football, said Ramon Pequeno, the head of the federal police anti-narcotics division. Barreto also said the shooting infuriated his boss, U.S.-born kingpin Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as "La Barbie."

The trouble started when the alleged shooter, Jose Balderas Garza, questioned Cabanas' scoring ability and the football player responded angrily, Pequeno said.

Later, Balderas and Barreto followed Cabanas to the bathroom, where Balderas shot him, Pequeno said. Balderas was identified on surveillance camera footage at the bar but remains at large.

Cabanas, who played in Mexico for Club America, would have been Paraguay's starting striker in South Africa.

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has used Cabanas as a source of inspiration for the country's team, asking the players to remember the injured star if they encounter difficult moments at the World Cup.

Paraguay, which is leading Group F with four points, faces New Zealand on Thursday. The South American country is hoping to advance to its first ever quarterfinal.

Barreto, who was paraded before reporters Wednesday, joined the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in 2007 and worked as a cocaine dealer under Balderas, Pequeno said.

Barreto told police that both Balderas and Cabanas were regulars at the bar — a noted hangout for athletes and entertainers — and knew each other, according to a federal police statement. The two suspects entered the bar with eight bodyguards and were not checked for weapons before taking their regular tables.

After the shooting, Barreto and Balderas left the bar with no opposition from security personnel, according to the statement. Later, Barreto said, he learned from Balderas that Villarreal was angry about the football player's shooting.

Mexican authorities say Villarreal is waging a bloody battle for control over the Beltran Leyva drug cartel, whose leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed in a shootout with marines in December.

Villarreal, who was born in Texas, is wanted in the U.S. and Mexico on drug trafficking charges and has a $2 million bounty on his head.

Federal police said Barreto was arrested Tuesday in Mexico state, which borders Mexico City. Two other suspected drug dealers were arrested with him. They were found with drugs, guns and ammunition.